BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A suspected Balkan drug boss pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he trafficked 5.7 tons of cocaine from South America to Europe and laundered millions of dollars in drug money.
"It's all one big lie!" Darko Saric said. "It feels like one of those American movies when someone gets framed, but I hope it will soon end."
This was Saric's first court appearance since he was jailed last week after several years on the run. Held under heavy security, the hearing drew much public attention because of Saric's alleged political ties that enabled him to evade justice for years.
The 44-year-old has been charged with leading a powerful Balkan criminal organization that smuggled cocaine from Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay through the Balkan countries to western Europe. He allegedly laundered at least 22 million euros ($30 million) by investing in the privatization of state companies, factories and hotels in Serbia and Montenegro.
Saric told the judges that "I knew some powerful, rich people in positions. They are still there and I am here."
Serbian authorities have said that Saric surrendered after he was located in an unidentified country in Latin America with the help of the U.S. and other international intelligence agencies.
He had been on the run since October 2009 when a shipment of 2.7 tons of cocaine that he allegedly organized was disrupted near the Uruguayan Atlantic coast in an international police action that included U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Eleven of Saric's alleged gang members are standing trial in Belgrade, while 18 others are on the run. All of his property, including luxurious houses and apartments in Belgrade, has been impounded by Serbian authorities.
The Balkans is one of the main drug-smuggling transit routes.